Friday, 18 April 2014

Giroud is quite good and four other Good Friday thoughts

I've written up a few thoughts that were too long for Twitter but weren't worth blog posts of their own. Some are more developed than others...

Calling for Giroud to be sold is odd
There's a bizarre tendency amongst some fans to both call for 'greater squad depth' and then decry players such as Olivier Giroud as 'not good enough'. Presumably if Giroud were to be sold and a 40 million pound striker to be bought in his place, the same problem would remain: a strike force of top striker, Yaya Sanogo, Joel Campbell and Theo Walcott as an option would still be putting an enormous strain on the top striker signed.

The other point is that Giroud actually has a very good record against smaller teams: he's probably not going to score the winner at Stamford Bridge; he might well score ten goals in fifteen starts against bottom half teams, giving whoever might normally lead the line a well-earned rest. I'm all for keeping him.

You have to be able to kick the ball
I find it quite strange when people praise Yaya Sanogo's running and the positions he takes up without mentioning one thing: he is bloody awful at kicking the round thing. Not just in the net but even close to it. Admittedly he's only played a few games but if you can't kick the ball, you're not going to score many goals.

How good really is Brendan Rodgers?
I know Liverpool are very much flavour of the month and they have been on an exceptional run, but I do get the impression that Brendan Rodgers has had far too much credit. In his time at Liverpool he's bought nine players for substantial fees:

Fabio Borini
Joe Allen
Daniel Sturridge
Philippe Coutinho
Luis Alberto
Iago Aspas
Simon Mignolet
Tiago Ilori
Mamadou Sakho

Of those nine, three are out-and-out flops (Borini, Allen, Aspas). Tiago Ilori is largely unknown but spending £7 million on a defender to not play him once for five months before sending him on loan to a bottom-half La Liga team where he has played just four times is hardly encouraging. Luis Alberto might be good but has hardly played; and Mignolet and Sakho are just average players, with Mignolet no improvement on Pepe Reina. Sturridge and Coutinho are both good signings but spending almost £100 million for two very good players and a couple more average ones is hardly brilliant management.

Top managers such as Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson have always built teams so that they can make up for the loss of one player. Rodgers has done some good things - Jon Flanagan has improved enormously and Jordan Henderson is becoming the player I thought he might.

But if Liverpool fail to win the League and lose Luis Suarez (a player incidentally not signed by Rodgers), I think they'll be in a fight for fourth next season. Rodgers has certainly done a good job. But the hyperbole about him being a brilliant manager needs more evidence.

Very few people seem to actually understand tactics
For years, the tactic of derision was zonal marking. Now, finally, most people seem to have caught on there's a reason that most top teams use this system and a large proportion of the people criticising it were failed managers.

But there do now seem to be some things which are considered normative goods: things a football team just 'should' do. Pressing is one. Playing a high line is something considered a normative bad.

And the truth is, like in most things, it's much more complex. (NB You can see the value of my nine grand a year social science degree here). It's plausible that playing a high line against Chelsea was the wrong decision. But there was an obvious thought process behind it: push the game higher up the pitch, put pressure on John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic who aren't especially good on the ball and try and get Cazorla et al in positions where they can be most effective, particularly when Arsenal's movement off-the-ball is nowhere near as good as it was a few months back, due to personnel changes.

AVB's failure combined with how bad a high line looks when things go wrong means people don't like it, whereas its advantages are less overt.

Similarly, two of the most successful managers in recent years have been Pep Guardiola and J├╝rgen Klopp, both of whom have consistently picked teams which press very hard. But the idea there's no downside to this is just ludicrous. There's a reason that Guardiola teams repeatedly tire in the final quarter of matches, something exploited by Arsenal both times he came to the Emirates with Barcelona.

My point isn't that Arsenal necessarily should play a high line or not press, but that these are legitimate choices with benefits attached to them.

In fact, that Arsene Wenger changed things for the Chelsea game shows he does indeed do tactics. When people say 'Arsenal always play the same way' they're either not watching the matches, or they actually want Arsenal to hoof aimless long ball in a way reminiscent of the England national team circa 2000-2006. Quite why that would be a positive thing is lost on me. But at least Arsenal would have played a different way!

Oxlade-Chamberlain nails it
I read somewhere - I forget where - Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain making a fair point that while Arsenal haven't won anything in a long time (yes, all media outlets, I'm aware how long it's been - you don't have to mention it every ten minutes) this current squad has only really been around for three years max. It's a fair point that losing is not some sort of long-term endemic thing at Arsenal, despite what the media might have you believe. A good point, well made by Chamberlain - now go and learn how to pass the football.

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